Mind the Gap – October 9, 2013

October 9, 2013

Mind the gap – as in, the gap in this blog being updated. There were a number of changes and “busy”-ness at the Capitol Corridor JPA that made either myself excessively booked to the point that I could not get around to the bike blog and there were some folks who moved on from CCJPA and those were my folks who used to publish this blog. Then summer hit with riding and being personally busy, moving from one house to another in Sacramento. My commute basically remains the same but I shorten it by about 2.5 miles – and I am okay with that.

What has been going on? On a personal note – bike-wise – I completed my fastest double century – the Mt. Tam Double along with the many climbs it had – and then I took a riding break to allow the weekends be used for a variety of moving duties but most recently just finished my fifth Levi’s Gran Fondo (and the weather was beyond perfectly stunning). Both those efforts have left me zapped and I guess it is the off season but the fall riding weather does beckon (but I still have many moving-in duties to pursue so not really so much riding – make a sad face). On the work side (which blurs sometimes with life overall) here is what is going on:

Visit to Capitol Bikeshare in Washington D.C.

I had to be out for meetings with Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). I was fortunate to spend time at my best friend’s house who lives with his family in Washington D.C. and that house is located close to the Potomac/Canal bike trail so I used my Brompton bike (took it on the plane ride over) to get around when going to/from meetings in DC.

And one of the meetings I scheduled after I had some hours off was to meet with Eric Gilliland, Director, Capital Bikeshare, who works for Alta Bicycle Share, Inc. Their site is tucked away in a corner of Washington D.C. near Nationals Stadium. At this site they do all their bicycle and dock repair and management of the system, including monitoring and dispatching. Eric was a gracious, laid-back, but calmly energetic host and what I got from that exchange was that I was probably talking to one of the two or three most knowledgeable English-speaking bikeshare operators in the world. You might think that being in business for three years supporting the Washington D.C. area system would not qualify you as an expert simply on the years alone but when you look at these modern bikeshare systems (aka the ones that use modern technology – not the first generation Dutch systems where many regular bikes ended up in canals), three years makes you an expert. In fact, the dedicated staff who support the DC system are regularly picked off and sent to be the new Director where Alta Bicycle Share wins a new system contract. The pilot operator for the San Francisco bikeshare pilot which just recently launched is run by Alta Bicycle Share and the Director is a “graduate” of the DC system. So among other things, the DC system is a finishing school for this new sort of transit system and that is how Eric views the operation – he is a transit operator. I questioned him about the various ways he works with the communities that participate in the DC system seeking to gain insight in how to replicate institutional and inter-personal success in the Sacramento and Bay Area. More than anything, he indicated it was all about the collaborative atmosphere between Alta and the cities that are part of the system. The cities all work well together as well, but he also acknowledged that the success of the system makes getting along easier. Again and again, he was essentially stating that the spirit of cooperation and goals that are larger than just that of the jurisdiction seem to carry the process forward.

Working in the Bay Area and Sacramento I would have to say that cooperation might be harder to achieve than anything for expanding bicycle sharing cohesively and comprehensively along the Capitol Corridor route. I don’t have enough digits on my toes and hands to account for the number of cities and transit operators who might be engaged on a mega-regional bikeshare system and can they all interact according to the Golden Rule that seems to work in Washington D.C.? As I write this, Washington D.C. is shut down for other reasons, but as we all know that does not change the mobility needs of locals and tourists. As I made my way around Washington D.C. on my folding bicycle, it was encouraging to see all the different types of users (commuters, tourists) of the bikeshare system and also to see how Union Station with the many Amtrak and Metro users was being well matched with the Capitol Bikeshare system.

Shared Use Mobility Summit

On October 10 and 11, 2013 the Capitol Corridor JPA is sponsoring–and I am attending–the Shared Use and Mobility Summit (www.sharedusesummit.org), which was largely launched via UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center with the driving force being Dr. Susan Shaheen. Dr. Shaheen is a world-renowned expert in the various sharing of mobility options and I came to know her in seeking out advice and expertise in examining bicycle sharing for the Sacramento and Bay Area. We are excited to be a sponsor of the program and I look forward to exploring how to best approach, mostly from an institutional aspect, sharing first/last mile mobility as it directly relates to access to/from the Capitol Corridor service. It is remarkable how fast shared mobility options are being integrated into people’s lives. There are numerous stories about how “millennials” are opting more often for other modes of travel than the private automobile or when they do need a car, they share. All of these aspects make learning how to align Capitol Corridor service with shared use mobility options a key part of our access strategies moving forward.

BIKING AND THE U.K.

June 19, 2013

Intercity Bicycle Route

 I have to say I got used to riding on the left side of the road but never quite got the hang of all those roundabouts. I had 250 miles to perfect the art of riding on the left side of the road in an organized ride from Manchester to London in 24 hours. The ride was organized into six segments and at each rest stop they would venture out and flag the next part of the course with markers. The shortest distance between stops (33 miles) turned out to be the most difficult because it was done at night and the longest section (48 miles) was probably my favorite due to the fact that it had some fun punchy climbs and the sense that you were really getting near London – where all roads lead. I was the only non-UK person doing the ride so I managed to make friends with a person I met at Euston Station, who like me, was heading up to Manchester on the train (Virgin Pendalino) to do this ride. We were compatible riding partners too and finished together in London at 7:50 AM. I will always regret not dismounting my bicycle and taking an early morning picture as we rode along the Union Jack lined boulevard leading to Buckingham Palace. I can’t help but be a proud creator of the Strava capture picture of the route. I had a lot of fun creating it!

 strava

Bicycles and Trains in the UK

The entire reason I went to the UK in the first place was that I was speaking at an annual wireless on trains conference (and another speaking engagement at the Global Wi-Fi Congress) and so I threw in some meetings with both Brompton Dock and several people involved in bicycle related issues at Transport for London (TfL) on the days ahead of the conferences but after the Manchester-London ride.

 Monday I met with Brompton Dock representatives. We discussed the various stages in moving ahead, including procurement and then the role of both CCJPA and the winning vendor for the service. Interestingly, we mutually discovered that in their UK situations (usually at train stations) Brompton Dock was not integrated into the marketing materials of the station or on the train due to the fact that those spaces all are made available for external ad revenue and not something related to a train associated amenity. Obviously the Brompton Dock representatives were happy to learn that a more integrated promotional message would be possible in our train service situation. The good news is that very soon I can start the administrative process to acquire both electronic lockers and also the concept of “folding cycle hire” which in US-English usage terms will be folding bicycle rental.

Also that day we took some time to see the Ealing Brompton Dock in place (50% of the bikes were being used). Some pictures from that are below. The first is a closer picture of the dock situated in a covered bicycle parking area set up in Ealing (a semi-attached suburb of London) and the next is one showing the covered bicycle parking area in the context of the Ealing Tube Station where you can just make out the Tube signage. The bicycles are a great amenity for freely traveling around doing the first/last mile thing for crowded transit systems and I hope that something like this will meet the needs of travelers in select locations for the Capitol Corridor.

bicycle lockers covered_bike_parking

On the Tuesday I met with representatives from TfL. Over lunch I met with Hannah White to discuss the larger TfL response to bicycle planning. Like many places that are undergoing a bicycle revolution (in this case strongly supported by Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor), there are innovative strategies and real funding behind transforming London even further towards a bicycle friendly urban giant. Over the years visiting the UK for this conference, I have noticed the not so subtle transformation. The most fascinating portion of our discussion from my perspective was where and how detailed, how directed, TfL was with all matters related to bicycling. Ms. White had just moved to a position that would focus on bicycle and truck safety in London. From my usual vantage point, that is a very directed area and says so much about the level of resources being directed at bicycling solutions overall for London.

 Later that afternoon I met with Elena Rhys who works in TfL’s operations administration of the “Cycle Hire” program; in other words London’s Bikeshare System (the Barclay’s Bicycles). I was able to grill her extensively about how they run their system, how they grow their system, what issues are encountered day to day, and then I was trying to apply it to the situations we find in the Bay Area and Sacramento. The perspective was very helpful and I will have to bring back my findings into the discussions we are having with various regional partners along the Capitol Corridor route for bicycle sharing.

All in all, a great professional opportunity for both those days related to bicycling and its integration with Capitol Corridor service. Unlike last year, the shock and surprise about the extent of “biking things” in general in London had worn off and I had some time to practically understand that London is just, well, different. Truly, it still remains at an entirely different scale than much of anything we might find in the United States (New York City excepted, and maybe Chicago) but the lessons are observations of how to organize to get the business of supporting bicycling done was fantastic.

Lastly a shout out to my long-distance riding event partner and UK host, Jim Baker. He was a great host in the Dover-Canterbury farm part of the world for my stay. We also work closely on wireless internet on trains but sharing the passion for bicycling is a great mutual recreational pursuit. Beyond that long Manchester-London ride (he was signed up but an opportunity to do a 50 mile with his son intervened), we were able to take two rides of the countryside. It was a great trip and the foundation of his hospitality truly helped make the days full and eventful. Tally ho until, perhaps, next year UK.

 

THE LAST BIT OF BIKE MONTH – BUT WHY STOP?

May 29, 2013

THE LAST BIT OF BIKE MONTH – BUT WHY STOP?

It has been a whole lot of bicycle for yours truly this month. Bike events, social gatherings around bicycles, and long bicycle rides have all featured highly in my activities.  One of my big accomplishments was completing the Davis Double Century (in fact I’m still a bit sore!). The weather was perfect – great temperature range with little bonuses throughout the day like heading back down the Capay Valley with a tailwind. It made me feel like I was on mile 40 instead of mile 160. Two weeks before the Davis DC, I rode back from San Francisco to Sacramento (to see the route see http://centralcaliforniacycling.com/SF2Sac_Map.html) on my Brompton in preparation for the longest ride I have ever attempted (this June 8-9 I’ll be riding from Manchester to London).  I thought I might take the Brompton on that journey for the convenience of packing for an overseas flight but, while the Brompton was actually really comfortable for that distance, it was a bit slow on those 16” wheels and Schwalbe Marathon tires.  After that ride, I decided to opt for the road bike – the same one I rode on the Davis DC. I think I will need the overall faster speed of the road bike to keep up with the ride event since it has to be completed within 24 hours.

Living in the era of airline fees, I was concerned about whether the airline (Virgin Atlantic) would charge and arm and a leg for my bicycle to be transported across the pond.  Much to my surprise, Virgin Atlantic is pretty darn supporting of people supplementing their travels with a bicycle (check out their page on the subject: http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/us/en/travel-information/baggage/sports-equipment.html). They even complete their section on their policy with “Happy Riding!” This seems like a good goal for those services that want to be inclusive traveling with a bicycle. As you may know from our past history, Capitol Corridor hasn’t always been quite that bike friendly, but we are trying! I know our team is motivated to improve access for all of our riders, including bicyclists, since we would like to be able to wish our bicycle-toting passengers “Happy Riding!” as part of their train/bike journey aboard the Capitol Corridor. 

BIKESHARING AND THE BALKANS

The Bay Area, famous for 27 transit systems (by some accounts) has been called the Balkans of transit systems. In almost no other location around the United States or probably in the world, are there so many transit systems operating independently of each other. So what does this have to do with bikesharing? Well, for starters it makes a comprehensive and cohesive bike share program pretty hard to implement.  But there is a pilot program poised to be launch in Peninsula communities of San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Jose- you can check it out here.  Bikesharing is a concept that is heating up in Bay Area communities all along our route; Sacramento and Davis are in the middle of a bikeshare feasibility study which CCJPA helped fund. Right now there is great opportunity to try to unify a Bay Area or even a Northern California bikeshare system, so that people of Northern California can achieve the mobility and last mile benefit bikesharing may offer- especially combined with transit systems like BART, Caltrain, or Capitol Corridor.

IT IS SPRING SO MAY MUST BE BIKE MONTH

April 25, 2013

IT IS SPRING SO MAY MUST BE BIKE MONTH

It always happens and it is happening more and more when May comes around that people just heed the good word and get on their bicycles as opposed to other travel modes they might usually experience. May, indeed, is Bike Month. Yours truly will be supporting several events that the CCJPA will be involved in around our service area; one for certain is the May 9 Capital Region Bike Fest in Sacramento on the West steps of the Capital. Other events led by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition will feature Capitol Corridor discounts and giveaways.  In the spirit of May is Bike Month, here’s how we’re planning on transporting our event items from the train station in Sacramento to theCapital Region Bike Fest event:

Carrying our event materials in style!
Carrying our event materials in style!

 

 

 

 

 

 

DUDE – WHERE’S MY BIKE CAR?

Even before a month like May is upon us, there are simply a whole bunch of bicycles making their way on to the Capitol Corridor trains. If you have not noticed, there are some retrofitted cab cars out there that hold quite a few more bicycles than they used to before. These retrofits join with our already outfitted cab cars to generally (as in most of the time, but not always…more on that in a bit) provide the bicycle storage capacity you out there need on the train. Each car in the fleet, except the food service cars and the occasional Superliner car have the existing bicycle racks but only hold three official bicycles. So, in general, the answer to where will you find bicycle parking can be best accommodated in the cab car (that would opposite from the locomotive end of the train and in normal operations mode, the car on the most northern part of the train). But that doesn’t always hold…

Sometimes there are some of the non-retrofitted cab cars out there (the seven slot variety) which are yet to go in for their upgrade and then, suddenly, there are fewer bicycle slots out there. And on a really bad day, there are no other options and maybe a four-car trainset. Those are not fun days for anyone but, sometimes due to stuff that goes on out there in the world, the Amtrak team, try as they might, have to put out a sub-standard trainset just to fill a slot. BELIEVE ME – we hear about it and at times I am a witness to those unfortunate situations. And then we make sure that we try to get that transet swapped out or fixed in some manner as soon as we can. But sometimes there is a bright spot and that would be the 8200 series of cars which are often times placed right behind the locomotive…those are also bicycle friendly cars. So, if you see one of those, head that way too. But maybe in an early morning or at the end of a long day that is all too much to remember and that is why the CCJPA and Caltrans (who owns the cars) will be putting large “stickers” on the bicycle cars so that when you see the train, you can get your bicycle in position to board. You are getting the scoop on these stickers but it will still be some time before they will show up because, frankly, we are busy lot here at CCJPA and Caltrans, and there are numerous steps to go through but they should show up sometime this summer.

One of the other questions you may now be asking is “When are you ALWAYS going to have a bicycle car in the trainset?” I will be blunt and tell you that I was hoping for June but we now know that probably won’t happen until later in the year mainly due to other retrofits that these cars have to go through (Positive Train Control – or PTC – retrofits are delaying that schedule). So until we get to this point we will be juggling cars to try and provide as complete a trainset as possible…and that is why we are not yet at the point of requiring stricter storage requirements for your bicycles on the train. That does not mean that a conductor might not have to take action to deny some people and their bicycles if the conductor determines conditions are unsafe while we are going through this transition. Hopefully we can avoid those situations but we just don’t have the equipment at our disposal to provide you the best-of-conditions at this time. So, those of you who can obtain folding bicycles, please do so – you will make room for others – and those of you who take your bicycles, please work with each other and the conductor to keep your bicycles outside of the aisles and stay with them if necessary so you can monitor the conditions your stored bicycle is creating.

THE BIKE FRIDAY TIKIT IS LIKE SWAPPING LEGO PIECES

March 27, 2013

The Bike Friday “Tikit” (a Speeding Tikit) that I am using courtesy of the folks at Bike Friday (bikefriday.com) is a fun folding bike and practical too. I like to ride my bicycle home after work from Davis back to Sacramento (where I live) as much as I can to (hopefully) get into and stay in shape for long recreational bicycle rides.

The way the Bike Friday is set up, it essentially replaced my prior full sized Bianchi. The Tikit has a rack that holds my panniers (clothes in one, laptop in the other) and it has drop bars and a geometry style that feels like it mimics a road bicycle. Of course, the major, and most practical,difference is that it rolls on sixteen-inch wheels and stuffs into the luggage rack on the train (thus preserving a spot for a full sized bicycle, which came in handy on a Monday on the way to work on train 523). I never did put my clip pedals on this bike, but have enjoyed using tennis shoes to crank out the miles between Davis and Sacramento (along with the miles to and from the stations).

So the question I will try to answer is, “Does the Bike Friday Tikit replace a full-sized road bicycle in my situation?” Functionally, there is no question that it does. With the pedal switch being the only non-action I took to essentially make it have the same elements as my commute road bicycle, the Tikit carries me and my gear over the same roads at a speed probably just a bit less than the full sized equivalent, but along with that, this bike actually gives me a slightly better workout since it is marginally less efficient (those small wheels you need for a folding bicycle – oh well, you can’t escape physics) and I train to maintain a heart rate anyhow. So, if you get technical, which some people like to do with decisions like this, this folding bike is not an exact replacement but, with it I lost just a little bit only to gain in an entirely new area; that area being the folding which the Tikit does very well and very quickly.

I am grateful that Bike Friday lent me this bicycle to test out. My run with it ends March 30th. Using it  taught me that if one’s lifestyle is like building with Legos, one can easily swap out one crucial piece and easily replace that piece with the Bike Friday Tikit.

There are a good many folding bicycle customizations, other than the Tikit, that Bike Friday makes in Oregon, which means Bike Friday probably covers a majority of the specialized needs of the bicycling public. Being sensitive to my public role here–not to endorse or favor one folder over another–I have ridden a Dahon (they have many models), a couple of Tern’s, a few Bike Friday’s, and a Brompton. These and other manufacturers are enjoying a strong growth period as people, mostly people using a bicycle in an urban transportation setting, are seeing the benefits of bringing a bicycle with them that folds into a small manageable package. The crucial thing is to do your own research. You can get opinions from the internet or, ask someone with a folding bicycle. You will learn about the pluses and minus of each bicycle, thus you can evaluate this type of bike based on your needs. Since you may ride a bicycle today with your train commute, or are thinking about it, I am sure there is at least one replacement Lego piece out there ready to support your lifestyle and even add that one new dimension.

CAPITOL CORRIDOR TAKES YOU TO THE GOOD STUFF

Vineyard2

Being able to use the Tikit combined with this next bit unquestionably allowed be to complete the only other double century I have ever done other than the Davis Double Century. This weekend I completed the excessively beautiful Solvang Spring Double Century (they have a fall version too). The green California hills, and a temperature that really started off cold, but, for the bulk of the day was ideal, made for the best double century experience I have ever had personally. So what does that have to do with Capitol Corridor? Well, if you are going to do these double centuries, you have to train for them. Riding home the Tikit from Davis to Sacramento is one way I used to put in some miles but when you need to really get in time in, you tend to want new or a variety of experiences other than trudging along the Yolo Causeway. Living in Sacramento, the American River bicycle trail is great and perhaps one of the best amenities to Sacramento. So are the hills beyond the trail into El Dorado County and Placer County but that is not all that is accessible to me. I thought I would highlight how I used the Capitol Corridor and my full sized Fuji road bicycle to make the most out of what a relatively mild winter gave us.

I started taking the train on the weekends to get a little variety in my rides a couple of years ago. One of my favorite places to ride is out of the Suisun City Station. I head north working my way up Wooden Valley Road and from there I have all sorts of choices. I can ride back to Sacramento, or I can make any number of loops back to the Suisun Station with the Capitol Corridor being my ticket to variety. Wooden Valley is one of my favorite places to ride and with the green hills (which may turn yellow soon since we are a bit short of precipitation), the vineyards and tall hills surrounding them, I feel like I am riding in a postcard dream.

I have made several of these loops using the various wine region valleys (Napa figures heavily) and the sum total of them meant I got in great miles, challenging climbs, but most of all experienced the beauty that Northern California has to offer, all made possible via a brief jaunt with the Capitol Corridor.  Want to learn more about bringing your bike onboard for a longer ride?  Send a note to our customer service folks, who are always happy to help.

Vineyard1St. Helena